Farmers in northern Myanmar staged a fresh protest against the China-backed Letpadaung copper mine on Friday after authorities bulldozed crops and fenced off farmland as part of the project’s controversial expansion program.
Local residents have refused compensation offers for land confiscated for the Sagaing region mine, where operations resumed this month after a government-ordered hiatus prompted by a brutal crackdown on local protests last year.
Since early this month, security guards have fenced off some 200 acres (80 hectares) of farmland developed by local residents and destroyed another 100 acres (40 hectares) of crops, according to residents.
Some 300 farmers protested in front of the Chinese project operator Myanmar Wanbao Copper Mining Limited’s local communication office to demand compensation for the destroyed crops, which they said were worth about 300,000 kyat (U.S. $300) per acre.
Local mining and security officials had the crops destroyed and fences built in a bid to get residents to give up their claims on the land, they complained.
“[They] had fences built around our land and had our crops destroyed on land that we had refused compensation for,” local protester Ma Sanda of Ton village told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“They are clearing the crops on the fields by driving bulldozers across the land. So local farmers are demanding compensation for the damaged crops,” she said.
Residents calling for a complete halt to the project have staged regular protests against the project in recent months, resulting in frequent standoffs with police.
Officials have allowed the Wanbao company to resume operations without fulfilling requirements set by a parliamentary commission that reviewed the project, they complained at protests this month.
President’s Office Minister Hla Tun, who heads the committee charged with implementing the recommendations, held a meeting with local residents last week but it did little to ease the tensions.
“We have lost our trust in the implementation committee,” Ma Sanda said.
Land compensation refused
The parliamentary review commission, headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had recommended earlier this year that the project be allowed to continue with safeguards and higher compensation offered for confiscated land.
But residents have said the new rates are still too low to make up for the loss of their farmland and livelihoods, refusing the offers and allowing the Sept. 30 compensation deadline to lapse.
The commission’s inquiry, prompted by a national outcry over the brutal police clampdown that injured dozens of anti-mine protesters in November, also resulted in a revised deal for the mine, which was initiated under Myanmar’s former military junta regime.
In an apparent bid to assuage public anger by giving the nation a share of the profits, the agreement was updated in July to give the Myanmar government 51 percent of the mine’s revenues, 30 percent to Wanbao, and 19 percent to the Myanmar military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL).
The new terms also stipulate that two percent of net profits from the project go toward corporate social responsibility with a focus on immediate communities.
Reported by Nay Rain Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.